Kitty's Big Trouble Page 46

“She knows.”

“Is her spirit safe? Contented?”

“She is,” Xiwangmu said.

Anastasia bowed her head and finally, after all this time, tears fell. “My spirit will never join with my ancestors. No one will ever light offerings at my grave.”

“You have a different path,” Xiwangmu said. Anastasia—Li Hua—nodded. She had probably known that from the beginning.

Grace stood and tentatively went to the vampire and touched her arm, a brief offering of comfort. I held my breath, waiting for Anastasia to turn her back, isolate herself. But she took Grace’s hand and squeezed it before letting it go.

Xiwangmu straightened, shifting moods, tones—no longer a matron telling a story, she became a queen making a pronouncement.

“The Dragon’s Pearl is gone. Now, we must decide how to build defenses against the one who has taken it. How to oppose one with so much power.”

“Wait a minute,” I said, and I could see Grace and Anastasia both flinch. “That’s it? What about trying to get it back? What about getting Henry back?”

“Do we know that Roman is just going to leave town now that he has it?” Cormac said. “Not come back and try to finish you off?” He nodded at me and Anastasia. Finishing us off—it was what Cormac would have done.

“Be quiet,” Grace hissed. “Let Queen Mother speak!”

Xiwangmu had cocked her head, listening, turning her gaze to me. “How would you oppose the Roman?”

I swallowed a lump in my throat at the sudden, intent scrutiny. I hadn’t thought about the how of it, just that it needed to be done.

“There has to be a way to find him,” I said finally. “Trace him, track him, something. Grace said he has to have a guide in the tunnels, someone who’s been helping him. Maybe we find who that is, and from there find Henry and the pearl.”

“Henry is gone, Kitty,” Anastasia said softly.

“I don’t want to have to tell Boss that,” I countered.

“I’ll tell him,” she said.

Xiwangmu raised a hand, and Anastasia settled. “This guide, the one who is helping Gaius Albinus. I think you are right, and that we should discover who this is. For our own protection, if nothing else.” She folded her hands before her and narrowed her eyes in thought. After a moment, she glanced at Sun, who was leaning on his staff, looking back.

“Do you have any ideas?” she asked.

“I do. You won’t like it, though,” he said.

“Yes, indeed.” Sighing, she said, “To oppose us, it would have to be one of us.”

“One of you?” I said. “What does that even mean? You’re not vampires, you’re not demons or spirits. What are you?”

Sun laughed. “What, is this so you can go home and look us up in your encyclopedia? Check another category off in your supernatural guidebook?”

I flushed. I was usually the one taking the piss out of everything. “I just want to know.”

“Of course you do—you’re a nosy American.”

I rolled my eyes.

Behind me, Ben said close to my ear, “You’re never going to get a straight answer.”

I never did.

Sun came over to me, planted his staff in front of me, leaned heavily on it, and grinned. “Surely you can guess what we are, can’t you? You must have some idea.”

If I did, my conscious mind was shying away from the knowledge, because it was impossible. It couldn’t possibly be right.

Xiwangmu leaned an elbow on the arm of her throne. The look in her eyes was part amused, part impatient. The look a teacher would give a slow student. She said, “Katherine Norville called Kitty—we’re gods.”

Chapter 15

I’D BEEN CAUGHT up in events over my head quite a few times over the years. Just when I thought I was getting pretty good at treading water and keeping stable, a new wave came up to knock me over. A bigger one. The waves were getting very big these days, and I was less sure of my ability to stay afloat than ever before. There was too much to know. I’d never learn it all. I would never learn half of what I needed to know. Yet somehow I had to keep trying—and hope.

Of course they were gods. Anastasia had worshipped this woman since she was a child, eight hundred years ago. Because Xiwangmu had earned such worship.

Still, I shook my head. “No. I’ve seen a lot of crazy stuff and met a lot of weird beings. But this is where I draw the line.”

Sun said, “Take everything else that you know is real—vampires and werewolves and ghosts are the least of it. Why not this, too?”

“But that would mean everything is real,” I said.

Sun raised an affirming brow.

I had always drawn lines. Before I became a werewolf, I had assumed—blithely, confidently—that I knew what was real and what wasn’t. The world was solid and logical. Then I’d been attacked by an oversized wolf late one night, and a lot of assumptions turned inside out. Werewolves were real, and I’d stepped through a certain kind of looking glass. Then I’d met vampires, were-jaguars, were-tigers, psychics, wizards, ghosts, djinn, fairies. With each encounter I erased the line and drew it a little further out. Like, maybe Bram Stoker’s Dracula had been based on a real-live—real-undead—vampire. Maybe a lot of those stories had their roots in reality. But that didn’t mean that some ultrapowerful guy named Zeus ever turned himself into a swan to try to pick up girls. It didn’t mean that when you prayed there was actually someone out there listening.

Did it?

“I don’t understand,” I said simply. Maybe it was don’t. More likely it was can’t. I was caught in a cosmic tsunami.

“It’s best if you don’t think about it too hard,” Sun said.

That was the problem—I didn’t trust what I couldn’t think about and pick apart. What was I supposed to do, knowing that the world was that big? How did you strip down and take a shower knowing that some omnipotent god somewhere might be watching? Answer: you lived very, very softly, to make sure no god took an interest in you. I thought about this, regarded the Monkey King and Queen Mother of the West, and realized I was pretty much fucked, wasn’t I?

Ben loomed protectively nearby. He put his arm across my shoulders, pulling me into the shelter of his body, kissed my head above my ear and stayed there a moment, his lips pressed against me, his breath stirring my hair. I closed my eyes and focused on that touch, because that was my answer—you clung to what you loved, and that kept you going.

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